State Poised To Crack Down On Obstructed License Plates

State Troopers are pictured behind examples of obstructed license plates during a news conference earlier this year near New York City. Submitted photo

New York state is poised to crack down on drivers’ obscured license plates.

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-New York City, and Sen. John Brooks, D-Massapequa, have introduced legislation (A.10711/S.8880) that increases the penalties for purposefully obstructed license plates. Penalties include increased fines, the suspension of a vehicle’s registration if the vehicle owner does not remove the artificial or synthetic material or substance that conceals or obscures the license plate or does not purchase new license plates.

“Purposefully covering, defacing, and otherwise obscuring license plates to evade tolls and law enforcement is a problem throughout New York State. The State Police, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have made clear that the enforcement tools available to them are not addressing the issue, and drivers are actively exploiting these short-comings,” Solages and Brooks wrote in their legislative memorandum.

The issue has made headlines in New York City, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) along with leaders from the New York City Police Department, New York State Police, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and New York City Sheriff’s Office earlier this year announced a crackdown on obstructed license plates.

MTA Bridge and Tunnel officers and New York State Police officers interdicted more than 1,300 vehicles in 2021 for persistent non-payment of tolls. Interdictions occur when a motorist, whose license plate has been flagged for repeatedly evading tolls, is pulled over. Officers will take possession of the vehicle and take the driver to a safe location off the bridge or out of the tunnel where arrangements can be made for alternative transportation.

Through this process, MTA Bridge & Tunnel officers recovered 93% of all tolls owed by recidivist toll scofflaws whose New York registrations were suspended. That equals $43 million since toll booths were decommissioned in 2017. MTA Bridge and Tunnel officers in partnership with New York State Police issued more than 5,500 summonses in 2021 for license plate obstruction.

Solages and Brooks propose taking that approach statewide.

“Automated enforcement and tolls can be avoided by intentionally defacing or obscuring a license plate. If violators are caught, the current penalty can be cheaper than the tolls and red lights the driver has already blown through. This is an easy trade-off for drivers who are looking to game the system,” Brooks and Solages wrote. “This bill will increase penalties for such a violation to an appropriate level, and will create the ability for a court to order the suspension of the registration of a vehicle that does not come into compliance, and temporarily block a vehicle’s identification numbers from registration.”

Specifically, Solages and Brooks propose making it illegal for a driver to register, re-register, renew, replace or transfer the registration of a vehicle with a VIN number associated with a suspended registration or a pending request from a tolling authority to suspend a vehicle’s registration. The vehicle couldn’t be re-registered until the notices of violation have been taken care of and the back tolls, charges and fees paid.

Police officers would be empowered to seize and confiscate any license plates that obscure the ability to read license plate numbers, including glass or plastic covers. A driver would be given a week to either remove the license plate obstruction or purchase new license plates. Drivers who don’t do so would have their registration suspended until they fix the license plates or buy new ones.

Fines for obstructed license plate violations would increase to $250.

“Law enforcement agencies have repeatedly seen repeat violators avoid a registration suspension by simply reregistering the vehicle with a family member or friend. Allowing a court to block a vehicle identification number will close this loophole,” Solages and Brooks wrote. ‘This legislation enacts common sense updates to the vehicle and traffic law without imposing undue hardships on the least egregious offenders. This urgent piece of legislation will also close the registration loophole that the most dangerous drivers exploit to the detriment of our state.”


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